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2013 Midwest Energy Solutions Conference Recap: Solid State Lighting Workshop

The rollout of CFL lighting among consumers stumbled badly, experts agree. And many in the energy efficiency industry now wonder whether LED lighting will suffer the same fate. “There’s a stigma” now attached to CFLs, said Jason Tuenge, a senior lighting engineer for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “People look at them now and say, ‘I’m not going to spend that much.’” Tuenge said he even has to fend off complaints about CFLs at Christmas from relatives who aren’t what he called “greenies.”

The 2013 Midwest Energy Solutions conference kicked off with a session on how utilities, advocates and manufacturers could work together to introduce LEDs to consumers without hitting the same obstacles. Tuenge said the mistake made with CFLs was that consumers were never educated about how they work and how that would influence what they needed. “There wasn’t even a big push to tell them they should be looking at lumens not watts,” causing many to make expensive mistakes when purchasing a CFL bulb.

“There’s a new product that consumers have to get their head around,” said Vicki Campbell, the director of energy efficiency for the Michigan-based utility DTE Energy. Like Tuenge, she’s heard many complaints about CFLs from consumers like, “’I don’t like those swirly balls.’ All of us in the industry want to avoid that with LED lights.”

Panel of lighting manufacturers discussing the future of SSL’s in utility programs

DTE recently helped produce a study with other utilities like Duke Energy and Southern California Edison that analyzed hundreds of LED bulbs for efficiency, cost, and consumer appeal. They even produced a list of the top ten LED lights. ”We’re going to need products for our mass marketing programs,” she added, and wanted to make sure whichever products they recommend would ensure that customers get attached to LEDs. “Having a good experience with these lamps is going to be important going forward.”

But the utilities are still trying to decide exactly how they will use the study. “We are looking at making a top ten label,” Campbell said, or perhaps offering special rebates for consumers buying the winning lights. A questioner worried whether this top ten list might exclude newer products or those from small manufacturers. Campbell said this initial study has helped the utilities gain needed expertise on how to introduce LEDs into the market, but that they’re “open to sitting down with the industry and figuring out the best way to do it.”